A Journey of Service, John Tattersall

It was a magazine called ‘Titbits’ that was the catalyst for John joining the Australian Air Force. John lived in England and loved to travel, so when he spotted an article on the back page that said ‘Join the Young Air Force, Join the Australian Air Force’, John was quick to act. “The following day I rang the number. I went for an interview at the Australian High Commission and was sent to Manchester for a medical. On 1st March 1971, I was 24, I officially enlisted in the Australian Air Force and flew out the next day!” said John.

When John landed at Adelaide Airport, he was taken straight to the air force base to be kitted out with his uniform and bedding. “I saw this troop of guys with rifles on their shoulders and a big muscly Corporal in front of them yelling: left, right, left, right - and thought, oh, there must be army on this base as well, not realising a week later I’d be doing the same thing!” John remembers with a hearty laugh.

The training was intense but John discovered that it was surprisingly enjoyable. Despite the rigorous routine of running, parades and strict stand-by bed inspections, it didn’t faze him at all. “For the Australians who enlisted, they had 3 months to leave if they didn’t like it. I didn’t have that option as I enlisted from England - so it’s lucky I liked it,” John said.

John became a Clerk Administrative, overseeing administration duties from personnel to policy. He was posted to Melbourne, Sydney, and then spent two and a half years in Malaysia. He was married at the time, so his family travelled with him and was provided with Government housing.

“Malaysia was a culture shock but mostly because they lived differently to us,” John said. Then he recalled a funny memory of their first day in Malaysia. “After getting off the plane, we hopped on a double decker bus, went upstairs and sat at the front - then we realised that was a big mistake. We just watched wide-eyed as motorbikes went flying past, going in all directions, and the traffic was horrendous”.

John and his family were also struck by the poverty in the country. John recalled how Australian military personnel would often go to Singapore to buy electrical goods, such as stereos, really cheap. He explained that, “At the time, there had been a lot of break-ins by locals but thankfully it never got violent. They would get in through the roof, take what they could and go. This was to help feed their families, as there was no social security. We were lucky with security, we never had any problems”.

In amongst all this, there was also time for fun. John joined a running group where a trail would be set-up using liquid paper on trees and other spots, which the group had to follow. When everyone got back, they would all relax and have a few drinks together - and it was a great way to meet the locals.

When asked if he ever got lost, John laughed and said, “yes”. “We used to try and shortcut the trails, thinking we knew where it was heading, but one day we got lost and ended up spending the night in the Malaysian forest. We had to wait for daylight to find our way back,” John explained. Then he added, “After that, we didn’t take shortcuts as much”.

After Malaysia, John worked at the RAAF Base in Laverton, just outside of Melbourne, before being posted to Port Moresby. This new posting, as John described it, “was a real culture shock”.

“Security was a serious issue in Port Moresby, so the Australian Defence section was dismantled and moved into the Australian High Commission. To increase security, walls and doors were lined with steel and deadlocks installed,” John recalled. “If anyone tried to break in, wives and children had to be moved to a designated safe haven”. Thankfully for John and his family, it never escalated to that level while there.

John had moved to Port Moresby with his wife and three daughters, who adjusted surprisingly well, attending international schools which they enjoyed. Unfortunately, the strain of army life was hard on marriages and it took its toll on John’s marriage, his wife and daughters leaving before John’s post ended.

John left military service at the age of 57, after 21 years, and says he never regretted any of it - it was the best thing he ever did. “I made some wonderful friendships and we still keep in touch on Facebook,” John said. “I would definitely recommend it. My grandson has now been in the air force for 4 years”.

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